Monday, January 31, 2011

Marrakech Express?

Tonight I am not making an actual recipe for something we are going to eat tonight, but rather I am making an ingredient for a future meal. About 4 weeks into the future to be accurate. I have been reading the cookbook Couscous and other good foods from Morocco. It was first published in the early 70's and is the "Bible" of North African cooking. In fact, all recent English language Moroccan cookbooks are compared to it when they are reviewed. It is supposed to be the baseline for authentic foods of the region.

You might wonder why I have this sudden interest in Moroccan foods and all I can say is IONO. For those of you unfamiliar with teen text say it aloud by syllables I-O-NO. (shrugging shoulders and teen attitude is optional) I have been exploring a lot of different ethnic cuisines and Moroccan sounds like flavors we will enjoy. (We will also be doing some Cuban, Italian, Eastern Europe, Philippine and Thai recipes) In order to cook the Moroccan foods properly one ingredient appears over and over. It is the one or 2 teaspoons of preserved lemon that pops up in almost every recipe. I began wondering where I was going to find the lemon but after reading further found the recipe (method?) for creating it at home. So tonight as I was cleaning the kitchen I noticed 3 lemons I had bought that were screaming to be processed ( moved from the counter top). It is simple and easy, but only time will tell if I have done this correctly.

Couscous and Other Good Foods from Morocco Paula Wolfert

Preserved Lemons

organic lemons
coarse salt
bay leaves
coriander seed
whole hot dried chili
whole peppercorns

Scrub the organic lemons well. I washed mine with a fruit and veggie spray from the health food store. Trim the little humpy top so it is even with the top of the lemon. Also trim the stem end so no part of the stem remains. Hold the lemon with the stem end sitting in the palm of your hand and make a slice through the lemon (lengthwise) stopping about 1 inch from the stem (bottom). Turn the lemon 1/4 turn and make another lengthwise slice stopping an inch from the bottom ( Should be an X shape)

Fill the insides of each lemon with coarse salt (at least 1 tablespoon per lemon) and place each lemon in a clean glass jar. (I found it was best to hold the lemons over the sink while stuffing the salt in them. It is messy and the salt tends to drop. A quick rinse and I was clean!) My jar would only hold 3 lemons but I think I will add a couple more over the next few days because they lose some of their bulk as the juices seep out of the lemons. Add all or any combination of the spices. I left out the cinnamon only because most of the recipes I have read have cinnamon added anyway and I did not want cinnamon twice . I had some very small very hot whole chili peppers and used 2 of them. It might be too much but I won't know for a few weeks. Press down on the lemons to release some of the juice. I used a dough tamper because it has a flat surface and it did squeeze the lemons without damaging the lemon's structure. Leave the lemons in a covered jar overnight and the next day repeat the process of pressing the lemons to release more juice. Continue this daily for 3-4 days. If they are not completely covered in juice on day 4 add enough freshly squeezed lemon juice to completely cover the fruit. Then simply put them on the counter and just let them develop for the next 3 1/2 weeks. At he end of the curing time put the jar in the fridge and they will last for about 6 months. Supposedly they can be canned after curing and will last for a couple of years. You are on your own with that. If I had lemon trees and an abundance of lemons I guess I might try it, but because I don't, I will just do a few at a time.

To use: Scrape all the pulp from the peel. Rinse to remove the excess salt and pat dry. Mince, slice or cube the peel and use in these fabulous recipes I have been reading. They say you can press the pulp through a fine mesh and use the lemon juice for flavoring in recipes but to discard all of the pulp.

I have no idea if this will work or not but I am trying. I'll let you know in a month!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

If Not For Bad TIming I Would Have No Time At All

This morning I hopped back into Weight Watchers World. Of course I did it on the morning of National Chocolate Cake Day. What to do? What to do? I flipped through my cookbook Hungry Girl and found a perfect solution to please both Weight Watchers and my obligation to God and country to honor this major holiday. I am a good patriot when cake is involved.

Hungry Girl Lisa Lillien

2 cups moist style chocolate cake mix
2 25 calorie packets of diet hot chocolate
12 ounces boiling water ( That's 1 1/2 cups)
2 tablespoons semi sweet mini chocolate chips
1/2 cup liquid egg substitute

1 teaspoon Splenda
1/8 teaspoon salt

Put the and the cocoa powder in a heat resistant glass. Pour the boiling water over and stir until the chocolate is melted and the cocoa mix has dissolved. Stick in the freezer for about 25 minutes to cool.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Take the chilled mix out of the freezer and give it a stir to reincorporate anything that sank to the bottom. Put the remaining ingredients in a mixing bowl and pour the chocolate liquid over it. Whip with a whisk or fork for about 2 minutes.

Line a 12 cup muffin pan with paper liners and spoon the mixture evenly into the 12 cups. ( Mixture will be thin) Instead of spooning it, I put it in a 4 cup pyrex measuring cup. It was easy to pour, but would have been messy to spoon. Place pan in the center rac
k and bake for 15 minutes. The cupcakes will look shin
y when done.
You can enjoy this chocolate goodness for only 2 weight watcher points, 3 points if you are following the nearly impossible to figure out online new WW Points Plus. Just give me the basic info the parameters of the program and a list of foods and their point value. Don't make me wade through a myriad of tutorials or testimonials extolling the virtues of bananas now having a zero point value. First I don't care about your testimony and secondly I LOATHE bananas. I feel like Dragnet...just the facts, I just want the facts.

Another thing they want me to do now is use their daily point tracker. I cannot speak for the rest of the nation but I learned basic math in elementary school. I am pretty sure between recording the values of each thing I eat and subtracting said values from my daily points allotment I can keep up with it quite handily on my own. My little spiral notebook is quite the traveler. It fits nicely in a pocket, in my purse, over the visor, in fact it can go where ever I go. And if the math becomes to taxing for me to do mentally, I have 10 fingers and 10 toes to help me do the calculations.

Rant over, now back to the cupcakes. Son3 and I both had one when it was hot out of the oven. The cupcake stuck to the paper a little and they are extremely airy. The taste is very good and they are moist enough to need no icing. Compared with the WW brand boxed chocolate cakes, which sells 6 snacks for around 3 dollars, this was about 2 dollars for 12 snacks. The price alone makes it worth doing again. I will let you know tomorrow how they taste after sitting a day. I will also try and freeze them. If freezing works the next time I will use the entire box of cake mix and just double the recipe I am wondering now, would this work with maybe a diet 7 up and lemon cake mix? Surely there will be a National Lemon Cake Day soon!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Is It Legal To Eat Out This Often?

We are on a one family mission to improve the economy in the Birmingham area, by putting money back into it via restaurants. I thought just for the sake of total embarrassment I would put the places we went in a one week period on "paper".

Monday night ate at home
Tuesday night book club at Beloved Sis' house
Wednesday ate at home
Thursday lunch Chuy's

I met 2 very dear long time friends at Chuy's for lunch. It would have been fine to eat anywhere, but the fact that we were in a place with really nice food only added to the pleasure. Chuy's is at the Summit in the last phase of development. It is tucked away in the corner of the U shaped shopping center, and will hide from you unless you look carefully. Parking can be a challenge so either go early or prepare to walk a little. I am a Chicka Chicka Boom Boom fan there. It is 2 chicken enchiladas covered with the secret Boom Boom sauce, rice and refried beans. I like a little heat and this dish has a nice bite but it doesn't linger. It is more than I like to eat for lunch though, so I go ahead and have them bring a go box so I can put half of it away before I even start. I love the fact that they make their tortilla's fresh. We set in the section where the tortilla lady was making them as fast as she could. Though we were there for a while and the lunch rush was past, she continued working as hard as she could. I am sure she was trying to get a little heads up on the early dinner crowd. I love everything about the place, from the decor to the music they play. Instead of traditional Mariachi music they let you listen to songs by singers like Bob Dylan or Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground. It is a great place to go on a cold day. Can't beat a nice warm restaurant filled with the wonderful Mexican spice smells and great company.

Thursday supper Mr. Chen's

We have been going to Mr. Chen's since the week they opened. It is in a strip shopping center in the heart of old Hoover, next door to Green Valley Drug Store. For about the first 4 times we were there we were the only non Asian faces in the restaurant. We used to have the same waitress each time we went in and she would monitor our order. Occasionally we would ask for something and she would say " No, You no like!" She finally learned we were a little adventurous and would actually take our order without flinching. ( Of course when Son3 ordered the Pigs Feet she had all the workers come and watch him eat them) Thursday the Hub and I were not really hungry so we split the Kung Pao Chicken and an order of the green pea leaves. It's the only place we go that has them. They are this very delicious sweet leaf that has been shredded and sauteed. It is incredibly bright green and the taste is as "bright" as it looks. It is on our order each time we go now. They also have a darn good sauteed cabbage, but we are pea leaf loyalists now.

The decor is kind of Spartan and there is little atmosphere. A large TV on the back wall plays soundlessly with either Chinese Network News or a Chinese fashion show. Every time we have been it has been one of the other. It's not a good place for a romantic dinner, but if you want good authentic Chinese food this is the place.

Friday supper Mikey's

Friday night we went to Mikey's ( another strip store restaurant) on Valleydale Road in the Southlake Shopping Center. It is a restaurant that really can't decide what it is. I guess since it is in a strip setting it need to cater to a casual crowd, but some of their entrees are a little ambitious. The place has a full bar and a limited wine list. The interior space is odd and There are some tables that just seem to be randomly in the middle of everything. They keep the lights low and the tables have white cloths and candlelight. The gigantic strip mall windows have curtains that look like they are made from illusion ( I imagine it is probably a polyester alternative so they can be washed and rehung with no ironing)

When we sat down, Mike our waiter, brought homemade rolls and olive oil with pesto sauce as a dipping oil. It was ok but they were a little heavy on the pine nuts and it made me think I was swishing the bread in leftover Christmas tree juice. I was not in the mood for anything heavy or rich so I ordered the Crab Cake Sandwich. I didn't want the sandwich but they don't have a plain crab cakes on the menu. The sandwich came with sweet potato chips and I ordered a side of slaw. Hub had a grilled grouper with a Hollandaise sauce and sauteed asparagus spears. To me it is odd that a kitchen has such a schizophrenic menu. I wound up taking the sandwich apart and having just the crab cake and the slaw, which is what I wanted to begin with. The crab cake was fine but not stellar. The slaw was wonderful but I confess I am a slaw freak.

The Hub's food was much better than mine. The grouper was incredibly fresh and cooked perfectly. The Hollandaise was, well it was Hollandaise but it was completely creamy with no sign of breaking. They had used enough lemon so the taste was buttery yet bright. Next time I will order from the better side of the menu.

Saturday I ate at home

Sunday lunch I Cantina

We went to the new I Cantina in Patton Creek. Again it has a strip mall feel but I am so prejudiced to the original Cantina next door to Pepper Place. Given a little time and about 100 candles dripping all over the holders it might have the same "feel" as the other, but for now I will have to just be glad it has the same taste. Also the Patton Creek Cantina has table service now, so no more standing in line or getting up to refill your drink. We had the sweet potato chipotle soup. My reaction at the first bite was 'ick', but I tried a second spoonful and the heat kicked in and the flavors developed. It must have been good cause we did not leave one bit in the bowls. We also had fish tacos and they were spot on as usual.. Son3 had the fish burger and the corn. Whatever you do try the corn!

Monday lunch Zaxby's

I had been to a funeral and had eaten no breakfast or lunch. What can you say? It was a drive in grab 2 chicken fingers and diet coke kind of meal. The chicken fingers are good and extremely portable. Nuff said.

Monday supper Mandarin House
Yet another strip mall restaurant adventure in Hoover. This time you are in Cheesy China with red floors and walls, wood carvings and a light up picture of what I assume is supposed to be some serene Chinese landscape. The tables are staggered so you don't feel like you are sitting on top of the table next to you, plus the brunt of their business is take out, so there are rarely more than 5 or 6 tables occupied. Hub and I both had scratchy throats and broken hearts. In addition to the funeral of a wonderful lady today, one of Hub's young co-workers died unexpectedly. We decided we needed a bowl of our favorite "feel better" soup. We split their Hot and Sour Soup and split an order of egg rolls. From the first bite I felt better. This is our favorite comfort meal and we seem to have it often (usually take out) during the winter. Son3 had his usual Fried Rice with Chicken. It is a mountain of food even if you are a 17 year old male.

Please tell me some places you go often. We are in a strip mall rut and need some change ( Actually we just need to eat at home more!)

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Sunday Night Gathering (of the fragments)

Today is Sunday and that means we eat out after Church. Usually we eat our main meal of the day then, but today we went to I Cantina at Patton Creek and had fish tacos ( Hub and me) or fish burgers (Son3) The food was delicious but it left me having to do something a little more substantial than just a sandwich for supper. I did not want to go to the grocery store so I looked just to see what I had in the fridge. Luckily I found about a pound of ground beef that was on its last day of shelf life. I also had some broccoli that really needed to be cooked yesterday, and some greens left from the Carmine salad night. Also there were about 5 rolls in the bread box. Eureka!!!!!!! A supper of fragments of other night's dinners. Next I had to decide how to cook it.

I have a cookbook I have had for years ( I am talking about since the late 70's) and I used it often when I had a little of this and a little more of that. The book is the More with Less cookbook. It was put together by Doris Janzen Longacre for the Mennonite Central Committee. It has a lot of Pennsylvania Dutch recipes and it's mostly very simple farm food. The premise of the book is to get by using less of the worlds resources to process food ( less meat more veggies and grains) with an emphasis on preparing a simple yet tasty eating system. When I first got the cookbook, my older kids were very young and money was very tight. I used it to stretch my food budget as much as possible. It focuses on making your food from scratch rather than relying on prepared mixes. ( It was an early proponent of the Slow Food Movement before there even was a movement!) I used this book so often when they were young that the book long ago lost its cover and now the first page I have is page 19. Fortunately the beginning of the book deals with all the how to's of consuming less (meat and processed food) yet actually having more. I knew I could find something in it that would match what I had on hand, oh yeah, but it had to be something I had never made before. It only took me about 3 pages to settle on this one. At some point and time I had even written "try this" on the recipe. ( I know I didn't make it before because every time I used a recipe in this book I wrote the family reaction to it along with a make again or don't make notation.

This is a recipe called Inflation Steaks. I don't know if it is called that because they are money savers or if it is because the volume of the meat inflates with the cracker crumbs. It is supposed to be the one pan answer to less meat usage per person.

More With Less Doris Janzen Longacre

Poor Man's Steak

1 1/2 pounds hamburger meat
1/2 cup water
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

Combine all ingredients and mix well. Pat out about 3/4 inch thick on a cookie sheet. Cover and place in the refrigerator overnight. (In my world that means put it on the quick freeze shelf of the freezer for about 45 minutes)

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.
Cut into steak shaped (?) pieces before cooking. Since I cut the pieces in squares we must prefer square steaks. Dredge in flour and pan fry in a small amount of oil till just browned. When browned put in a baking dish and pour 1-2 cups of mushroom sauce over all. Bake for 1 1/2 hour.

Mushroom Sauce

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk, stock or combination

Cook until smooth and thickened, set aside

In a small skillet saute' 1/4 cup mushrooms and 1 tablespoon minced onion in a little butter. Add to the sauce. (Essentially this is a b├ęchamel sauce with mushrooms and a tad of onion)

I think I tell you what I did differently because a recipe should really just be a starting point instead of an absolute direction. First of all, instead of salt and pepper in the meat mixture, I used Angelo's steak seasoning. If you have ever been to Panama City in Florida it's the place with the gigantic fiberglass bull out front. Their steak seasoning is wonderful and we make a special trip there every time we go to the beach just to pick up a couple of jars of the stuff. It lasts us throughout the year. I also added some parsley just because I had some on hand. Instead of putting just water in the meat mixture I used 1/2 beef broth (had some in the fridge) and 1/2 red wine (sitting on the counter). I patted it out in what we call the brownie pan, 'cause that is what I usually make brownies in. I measured it just to be accurate and it is an 8x11 pan.

When it was seriously cold I cut it into the square steak shapes while it was still in the pan. I think this is why they want you to wait overnight, because I did have a little trouble getting it out of the pan. Some of my square steaks had irregular borders. I skipped the whole dredging in flour bit. I just sprayed Pam in a cast iron skillet (heavy spray) and browned the pieces. While they were browning I washed out the pan I had them in to begin with, sprayed it with Pam and put the pieces back in the same pan.

The mushroom sauce was altered a little. I cooked the flour and butter to a light beige color and then added about a cup of beef stock. I put a pinch of salt when I added the broth, but the broth is already salted and I didn't want the sauce to be too salty. I thought I had fresh mushrooms but I didn't, so I had to grab a can out of the pantry. I tossed it in (medium size can) liquid and all and stirred until it was smooth. It still seemed a little thicker than I wanted it to be, so I added about 1/4 cup of white wine (Yes I know you are not supposed to have white wine with beef, but the square steaks don't care and it was just for a little added flavor. Besides I had used to last bit of the opened bottle in the meat mixture) I also added about a tablespoon of fresh parsley and a couple of pinches of dried thyme. I poured it over the fake steak put an aluminum foil top on it and stuck it in the over to bake. 300 degrees for an hour and a half seemed a little excessive to me so about halfway through I turned the heat up to 350. I mean, it's ground beef no matter how you slice it. It doesn't need the low slow cook time to tenderize it.

We ate our supper and decided it had a really nice taste to it. It did expand the ground beef. We could have served at least on other teenage boy, which is a pretty decent feat for 1 pound of ground beef. The official verdict from all of us is that it f had the mouth feel of meatloaf, but it tasted like a non greasy, easy to eat cube steak. Since I opted to not coat it with flour and pan fry it to begin with the grease level was relatively low. I only use ground sirloin or ground round and both of those are very low in fat. The mushroom sauce was very beefy tasting and had a nice golden brown color. It cooked down a good bit, so I would think it needs to be at least as thin as mine was. ( about the consistency of a traditional gravy) In a pinch I think a can of golden mushroom soup would be a fine alternative to making the sauce. Though we liked it fine, I am not sure I would do it again. It was not a lot of work but it was a lot of steps just to get an end product that was "perfectly fine". I could have mixed up Sloppy Joe's with the same amount of beef and I think it would have been received equally well. All in all I give this an average score.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Glad I did not make this a pass/fail blog

When we had the fake snowstorm a while ago, I was at the grocery store buying what I really and truly needed for the week. I was shopping from a list with only the items I needed for the following weeks menu. While the rest of the shopping public at Publix was in "snow frenzy" I was wandering around the store getting all of my purchases very purposefully. Inwardly I was laughing at the reactionary fools who were buying products willy nilly with no regard for what they actually needed. Oh yes, I was so far beyond all of that needless buying. Since the kitchen redo I can cook on my cooktop whether we have power or not. I actually started to feel a little smug and self righteous, since I was not becoming nuts at the prospect of a little snow. Then this nagging voice in the back of my head yelled "CHILI". Wait! Chili wasn't on my menu. How could I possibly deviate from my carefully planned menu. The rational part of my brain just said, "Hey this is not written in stone. Substitute chili for one of the other meals you have planned. After all if the power does go out how easy would it be to warm up chili. You can make it when you get home and have it in the fridge ready to be warmed and eaten"
"Good call rational brain" I thought and veered off my plotted course. FATAL MISTAKE... A compulsive person who already has a pantry stocked like Armageddon to going to happen tomorrow should never go off on a shopping tangent.

Long story shortened now, I came home with a good bit more than I originally went to the store for, including 2 loaves of Pepperidge Farm Whole Wheat Cinnamon Bread. "Why?" you might ask. Well the part of me that took control of shopping somehow decided that since Publix had the bread BOGO I had to have it. You never know about snowstorms. What if we ran out of food. We could always have raisin bread toast. I could spear it on my kitchen fork and toast it over the gas flames even if the power went out . Oh yes I could mentally see all the uses for raisin bread.

Cut to this week. I think 2 pieces of raisin bread were toasted during the time since the fake winter event. This morning I woke and was going to make raisin bread french toast, but the Hub was moving around before me and had already made grits before I was out of the shower. By the time I got to the table they were cold grits. I ate a bite and drank my coffee, but I kept thinking about the french toast idea.

Hub and Son3 left to go hunt for Bambi and Bambi's relatives at my brother in law's farm. I tooled around the laundry room and did a few other chores until it got to be about lunchtime. I was still thinking about that stupid french toast, and decided why not. It's a cold day and something hot would be a lot better tasting than a cold sandwich. That's when another lightbulb went off. "How about a french toast sandwich?" I knew I had one of those little single serving tubs of WW (almost) cream cheese in the fridge, so I got my 2 slices of raisin bread ( by my count we now have used 6 slices) and spread the cream cheese on one of the slices. I topped it with the other and pressed it together tightly. I beat an egg, added a little milk, vanilla, sugar and cinnamon and stirred it until everything was mostly blended. I dipped my raisin bread sandwich in the egg, then flipped it to coat the other side. My skillet was sprayed with butter flavored pam and had about a teaspoon of butter in it also. Oh that soon to be french toast sounded so good when it hit the pan with a sizzle. I could smell the butter and the cinnamon...smelled wonderful. I flipped it and finished off the cooking . Cut it in butterfly quarters on the cutting board and plated it and gave it a quick dusting of confectioners sugar. I had a beautiful Clemantine sectioned on the plate beside it. I ran over and took a quick picture with my phone and sat down to eat it.

What can I say? It was less than stellar, bordering on not good at all. The bread was a little too dense to soak up the egg mixture so it wound up being eggy on the outside but just bread on the inside. Maybe it is because I used the low fat WW fake cream cheese, but the cream cheese though hot, never developed the melted creamy state I was hoping for. It was kind of like eating cheese toast made with the processed cheese food slices. Edible but just this side of rubbery. I ate about half of it then gave up and just ate the Clemantine. At least that part of lunch was good. I am putting this in the don't try again column. Now I am wondering if birds like raisin bread?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Veggie Tales

Once a week we opt for a meatless meal. It is not some weird political statement or an obsession with the latest health food fads. It's just something we do ( actually more often during the summer when fresh peas, okra, tomatoes and corn are in abundance). I guess I am the most meat indifferent of the 3 of us, but it is simply not something we require every meal. Since it was really cold tonight and the Hub had to work late, I decided a soup meal would work best. I wanted something with a little bit of substance to it without being too fatty or creamy. I would like to say I searched through each cookbook I own to find just the perfect soup, but honestly I found one that sounded great on the first try. I pulled out my copy of The Grit Restaurant Vegetarian Cookbook. The Grit is a restaurant in Athens, Georgia that caters to the herbivore crowd. Its a sans meat joint but not all the items on the menu are vegan. There are butters, eggs, cheeses and creams in many of their recipes so its quite possible for the carnivores to have a filling meal there also. In fact if you didn't know in advance everything was meatless you would be fooled by a couple of their stews and sandwiches.

Tonight the choice was made with a couple of things in mind. I pretty much had everything on hand and it just sounded good. I choose the Corn and Potato Chowder. It seemed like it would be substantial enough for a stand alone soup. My guess proved to be correct. The soup was dense and creamy (ish) without being fatty. The flavor of the corn was the high note, but the soup itself had a slightly herby taste. The potatoes ( I cooked them a little too much and they were a little soft) were a little bit too salty. That is one thing I will alter when I make this again, and I will definitely make it again. For the record everyone had only soup and it left us full and mouth satisfied.

The Grit Restaurant Vegetarian Cookbook Jessica Greene and Ted Hafer

Corn and Potato Chowder (vegan)

2 medium Yukon Gold Potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
3 1/2 cups water
1/3 cup soy sauce
1 teaspoon onion powder
2 tablespoons vegan margarine
1 small yellow onion diced
1 small carrot cut in matchstick pieces
2 ribs celery chopped
1/2 cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried parsley (1 1/2 teaspoon fresh)
1 pinch dried thyme
1 pinch dried oregano
2 cups soy milk
1 1/2 cups corn kernels (fresh or frozen)

Boil the potatoes in the water, soy sauce and the onion powder until barely tender. Remove form heat and set aside.
Melt the margarine in a soup pot and add the onion, carrot and celery. Saute over medium heat until the vegetables are tender. ( about 5 minutes) Add the flour, salt, pepper and herbs. Cook over a mid low heat stirring often for about 10 minutes. Increase heat and gradually stir in the potato mixture, then the soy milk and finally the corn. Simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring often. Serve immediately in warmed bowls. (?? Do any of you ever warm the bowls??)

This is the recipe as it is given in the book. I must confess I did not follow it exactly and there are a couple of things I will change the nest time I make it. First instead of soy sauce I will use a low salt tamari. I like the flavor of tamari a little better than traditional soy sauce. I thought the soy made the potatoes a little too salty. Since the tamari is darker than traditional soy sauce I will drain the potatoes after cooking and will add vegetable broth to equal the drained liquid. I personally thought the soy threw the color of the soup off a little.

We are not vegan and don't pretend to be, so I used a canola oil/butter blend for the vegan margarine. Other than having dairy in it it would not have altered the taste at all (except butter tastes way better than margarine) I followed the recipe step for step until I got to the soy milk addition. Once again we are not vegan, so used skimmed milk instead. I did not heat the bowls as instructed. There was very hot soup going into said bowls and if the family wanted it to be hot while they ate they had to adjust their eating speed to accommodate the room temperature dishes. It's not like I served it up and left is sitting on the table for a while before I called the troops to chow down anyway. I used frozen corn because it is not fresh corn season. I put 2 types of corn in it. I had some White Silver Queen frozen kernels but wanted the brighter yellow in it also so I used regular yellow corn kernels.. I split it half and half just for the color. After I ladled the soup in the bowl, I put several sprigs of watercress on the top of it just for a little visual appeal. The Hub and I both ate it, but Son3 does not like strange green stuff on his food, so he balked. The final verdict came when everyone went back for seconds!

We all agreed it was good and all agreed it would be something we would like to have again. This made a boatload of soup, so I am guessing I am going to be eating this for lunch for the next several days. ( Looking at it I would guess there are about 6-7 servings in the recipe) I am going to try freezing a couple of servings, but I am not sure it will hold well. Will see and let you know if it is a success or failure. Won't know till I try.

Yay 4 recipes down and only 96 to go!

Happy Eatin'

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Dinner and Book Chat?

Tonight was our first book club meeting of the new year. We start each year filled with a new spirit and determination to make it our best ever. I have been a member of the Yaya Book Club since we began in 1997. We have read countless (Ok not really countless cause we only read one a month) books in different genres. The general purpose of any book club is to read the book and have some in depth discussion and dissection of the material. We are just not that type of organization. We begin our evening at someone's house with an adult beverage and an appetizer. Following is a meal and it ends with coffee and dessert (decaf hopefully for the one's like me who can no longer drink real coffee after 3 in the afternoon )

This evening we met at my beloved sister's house, and she treated us to a chicken and artichoke meal served over brown rice, a tossed salad and dinner rolls. The meal was quite good and the conversation was fabulous. When the meal was over she served us coffee (decaf, yay!!!) and a most delicious chocolaty gooey pie that just flat out made my mouth happy. Because I have not cooked in about 3 days (Birmingham area restaurants love me!) I thought I would share her recipe for the pie. Usually we get around to talking about our book over dessert. Our selection this time was Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes. One of us had read 92 percent of the book, I had read only 70ish percent, two were about halfway through and our host had not begun it yet.

This year our method of reading will be changing entirely. Tonight there were 2 Ipads and 1 Kindle there ( though my Kindle never even made it out of my backpack) I always thought I would reject electronic reading and opt for the familiar book, but I have been a Kindle junkie for over a year now . This fall I got an Ipad for my birthday and it has just enhanced my reading enjoyment. I have always loved reading late at night in bed. The husband I share a bed with has not always shared my love of late night reading, because the lights bothered him. Now that I have the Ipad we are both happy. I read on my side facing him so the backlit screen is shining away from his side of the bed. It is the best of both worlds, he gets the darkness he graves and I get to read late (way too late most nights) The downside of reading late at night, especially a Philosophy book, is that when you close your eyes and don't turn the pages the backlight goes out. ( I fall out along with it) Consequently I am not reading as fast as I used to. Oh well, the best thing about having a long term bookclub with 4 fabulous friends is that we are all pretty understanding of each other's time demands. Worst case scenario is that we get together next month and talk about it over more fine food and companionship.

I don't know if this was originally in a cookbook or not. My sister said she found it in the newspaper. You will understand why it was unimportant for us to talk about a book when we could have this in our mouths instead of words!

Toll House Pie

I unbaked Pie Shell (deep dish)
2 large eggs
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup butter, softened (1 1/2 sticks)
1 cup chocolate chips
1 cup chopped nuts

Preheat over to 325 degrees
beat eggs in a large mixing bowl on high speed until foamy. Beat in flour and the sugars. When mixed beat in the softened butter. By hand, stir in the chocolate chips and nuts. Spoon into the pie shell ( If using a frozen one make sure it is thawed before filling)

Bake for 55 minutes or until it is thoroughly set. Cool on a wire rack. Serve with either a scoop of vanilla ice cream or a dollop of whipped cream (real!)

If using a frozen pie shell ( who in their right mind would make one for a dense pie like this?) make sure it is thawed before filling and place it on a baking sheet while cooking. You might need to add about 5 minutes to the cook time. Insert a knife into the pie midway between the crust and middle of the pie to check for doneness. It should come out of the pie and remain clean.

The pie cooks like a chess pie with chocolate chips and nuts. The outside is nicely crusty, while the inside is set yet it retains a little goo. The brown sugar flavor is very pronounced and gives a hint of a caramel flavor to the dessert. We had it with ice cream but I am betting whipped cream would be just as good.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Son3 is in West Virginia skiing this weekend and we ate out last night, so we were wondering what to have that required little (no) cooking. Fortunately the Hub was given a cookbook for Christmas from one of our favorite places in New York. ( Does anyone but me see the irony of this gift? Other than making grits, I don't think he has cooked at all during our marriage) We decided the Carmine Salad would meet the requirements of really great flavor and no cook time. If you have never eaten there do try it. It's in the theater district on W.44th between 7th and 8th. A word of warning though. They serve everything family style and the portions are huge. The first time we dined there each of us (all 5) ordered an entree plus the salad. There was enough food for about a dozen people. We have eaten there about 5 times now and the salad has never disappointed us (nor has anything else we have had there)

It took a quick trip to Publix to grab everything, then was just a matter of chopping and eating. It was as good as we remembered, but there was still too much to eat! I guess that is just the curse of Carmine's

Carmine's Family Style Cookbook Michael Ronis with Mary Goodbody

Carmine Salad

1/2 medium head iceberg lettuce
1 medium head radicchio
2 bunches watercress
1/2 cup coarsely chopped Genoa Salami
1/2 cup coarsely chopped Mortadella
1/2 cup diced Provolone
1/2 medium red onion, peeled and thinly sliced
1/2 small cucumber peeled and cut in a large dice
6 pepperoncini peppers
6 large green olives (pitted)
6 Kalamata olives (pitted)
3 radishes trimmed and thinly sliced
1 large ripe tomato cored and cut in wedges
1 recipe Carmine's vinaigrette
pinch oregano
salt and freshly cracked black pepper

Carmine's vinaigrette
juice of 1/2 lemon
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
pinch of oregano
pinch of salt
freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Wash the iceberg, radicchio and the watercress. Cut the lettuces in wedges and put in a bowl of ice water. Remove the watercress leaves form the stems and add them to the bowl. When they are well chilled and very crisp drain in a colander and run through a salad spinner to dry. Put them on a platter and top with the rest of the salad ingredients in the order listed. You eat first with your eyes so make it pretty. Drizzle with the vinaigrette and dust with the pinch of oregano. Salt a very little and add black pepper to your personal taste.

We had only the salad and a roll each for supper. With both of us eating until we were stuffed we still had 1/3 of the salad left (lunch tomorrow?) I can't think of anything I would do differently to this recipe. Well, except the step about putting the lettuce in ice water to crisp it. I bought really fresh lettuce and radicchio so I just washed and dried it. It might be necessary in the middle of the summer when things wilt quickly, but in the middle of winter there was no problem skipping it.

I actually remembered to take a picture of the finished dish, (mumbles something here about Son3 being in West Virginia and having a new computer and maybe not having learned how to make the pictures jump from the camera into said new machine) The camera is not going anywhere and Son3 will be home Monday night. I will try and remember to get him to make the magic happen so you can see what a truly pretty presentation it is.

Good eating!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Tonight is Date Night, at least that is what I have always thought Fridays are. We still honor the date night tradition even though we have not been on an official unmarried date since 1973. In our early marriage when babies were born and money was tight "Date Night" would be something as simple as walking round the mall and having a coke, or going to the drive-in theater with babes in tow. We would make a sandwich and have a canned drink each, have the kids fed and bathed with beds made in the back of the car. We could go to a double feature for next to nothing, providing the early feature was kid appropriate. They would halfway watch the first movie and drift to sleep. We would not fall asleep until midway through the 2nd movie.

Spring forward 30 or so years and we have a totally different date night routine. If Son3 is having guests for the evening, date night means take-out food and a rented DVD. We don't really stay in their face or space, but we are here if they are. It's not really a true date, but it's necessary plus we have found some fabulous places who will accommodate take out

If it is high school football season, date night means leaving our house at 5:45 headed for a football stadium, and eating a hot dog washed down with a bottle of water. Not a lot of dining pleasure there but I know we will miss it when Son3 leaves for college.

The rest of the Friday nights in the year are filled with dining at various restaurants. That does not mean all fine dining at all. We might grab late night burger at Purple Onion, a bowl of soup at The Dip, or go somewhere that requires better clothes and party manners. It is really just based on what we plan to do before or after the meal. Like everyone we tend to be creatures of habit and will hit the same places one time too many then become burned out on it. That happened with Dodiyo's recently. 3 weeks in a row is just too many and something really good becomes ordinary. Tonight (with the fatal Dodiyo overkill fresh on our brains ) we decided to run down to Fox Valley.

Score on for the home team! 1 very dirty martini each and some conversation at a nicely private table set the stage for the evening. Hub had the seared tuna with shrimp and crab covered with some house sauce they make. After tasting it I think it was a highly gussied up hollandaise. I am not sure what else came with his plate because my attention was totally on mine... Seared Duck with whipped sweet potatoes and sauteed spinach. It was wonderful, and I would like to say I enjoyed every single bit, but in truth I quit eating when everything was only half gone. The only reason I agreed to go there with no discussion was the dessert. The triple cream brulee is destination worthy. I only order a meal there so I can have it afterward. Truth be told, I would love to order only the cream brulee (double portions?) and coffee. What can you say about 3 pots of brulee? One is a perfect classic cream brulee with the wonderful crunchy caramelized sugar on top. Perfectly soft yet the cream holds its shape on the spoon. The second (my personal favorite) is the Triple Sec version. Actually just like the first but with triple sec in the cream and finely ground orange rind in the sugar topping. The third is the Godiva Irish Cream. It is also delicious but pales compared to the others. Now my mission is to find someone who has worked there who will tell me exactly how they are made. I can make a pretty decent cream brulee, but as much as I have tried I cannot replicate these. Years ago, I was on a similar quest for the recipe for the White Chocolate Bread Pudding from Prairie Fire Grill. I finally found a guy who worked in the kitchen there and begged him for the secret. He claimed they all had to sign a binding statement that they would divulge no recipes to anyone. When I asked him what it would take to get the recipe (since I was not going to open a restaurant as competition) we agreed a case of Bud Light would be a fine trade. Now if any of you work or know someone who works at Fox Valley, please let them know there is a desperate woman who will find an acceptable barter item for the recipe!!!! I simply must have it!!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Led by a childhood memory

This morning my mother love bombed me. ( Love bombing is a surprise attack by the parents, usually occurring in the early morning while I am still in my pajamas. It is almost always accompanied by some item I MUST SEE RIGHT THAT SECOND ). Mom had been to the store the first thing out of the chute to purchase some post Christmas sale items she had seen, touched and raved over yesterday, but of course had not bought. It was my job to admire them (each of the 5 identical items) and tell her she had spent her $25 well. (Total purchase mind you, not $25 per item).

After I had fawned over her new things the proper amount of time, we had to have the obligatory cup of coffee and small talk. She immediately noticed the pile of cookbooks on my kitchen table ( as well as the single Cocoa Krispie that had fallen on the floor when Son3 ate breakfast this morning) and wanted to know why I had them out. I explained the personal challenge and what I hope to do this year. She looked at me confused for a moment them pronounced it the dumbest thing she had ever heard. Until...she saw Grandmother's cookbook. She had forgotten I was the one who inherited the book (possibly because I was the only grandchild who wanted it). She started looking through the pages and remembered various times they had eaten the different recipes ( including a play by play of what jobs were required of "the girls" for the various recipe preparations). She kept going back to one specific recipe. Then declared that this had to be my next recipe to try. ( I guess it was suddenly not such a stupid quest) She did not remember the actual cake recipe they used but was adamant about the filling. I am going to make it tonight simply because I have all of the ingredients on hand, and I still have coffee in the coffeepot left from this morning. (The only advantage of not being a neat freak) I will take extreme liberties with the actual cake and just make a yellow sponge cake or use a Jiffy Mix. The filling is a coffee buttercream, and that is what Mom remembers making. She said it made enough for their family to eat with none leftover, so she believes it was just a single layer cake split and filled. ( I am not sure she remembers correctly though, there were 5 kids in the family and 3 of them were teenage boys)

This is from the only cookbook my mother remembered my grandmother ever having. It was a promotional cookbook from Rumford Baking Powder and was printed in 1939. I am surprised that a promo book was not only a hardback but also a cloth covered one. I am pretty sure this is the only recipe I will try from this book. It is very fragile and really is priceless to me.

Rumford Complete Cookbook by Lily Haxworth Wallace

Coffee Filling

1 egg yolk, beaten
1/2 cup butter at room temperature
2 tablespoons cocoa
5 tablespoons strong coffee ( means strong decaf coffee in my world)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 small box sugar ( how much is one box of sugar?) (NOW I know it means 1 cup)

In a boiler over a medium fire (directions, not my words) cook the cocoa, coffee and sugar, brushing down the sides occasionally until a drop in cold water will make a soft ball. (Softball stage on a thermometer is 248 degrees) Pour 1/2 cup into a coffee cup and add the beaten egg yolk to it. Return the mixture to the boiler and stir. (This is definitely a time before there were any Salmonella worries) Add vanilla and let cool until you can comfortably place your hand on the bottom of the pan. Add a small dot of butter to the sugar mixture and check to see if it melts. If so, continue cooling until the butter can be incorporated without melting.

OK a few minutes (4 hours) later and I have made everything and I am waiting on Son3 to take a bite of the still warm concoction . He gave it a thumbs up, but he is 17 and it is hot cake.

Well I know now for a fact a box of sugar does not mean one pound. I had to double everything after cooking for about 30 minutes because the mix was supersaturated with sugar. The crystals would not melt even when everything was at a rolling boil. I poured it all into a clean pot and started adding more coffee, a tablespoon at a time until I realized it was going to take double the amount of everything. I cooked it to softball and added the 2 egg yolks to 1/2 cup of the hot mocha mixture, bringing their temperature up before adding them to the rest of the pot. ( I confess to turning the heat back up after they were completely incorporated just for a little unofficial pasteurization.) I cheated on the cooling process and put the pot in a larger pot half filled with cold water. I stirred constantly while it was cooling and found it was tepid within about 10 minutes. I added the room temp butter thinking it would lighten the mixture a bit, but it really didn't. The final result was not like a buttercream at all (Mom swore it was a light fluffy buttercream) but more like a mocha fudge icing. I made a standard yellow cake, but baked about 2/3 of the batter in an 8 inch spring form pan. I had decided I wanted it to be a little thicker than a standard cake layer, since I was going to split it. That part worked perfectly and I wound up with a double layer cake, but the layers are thinner than a traditional cake. I toasted pecans and put them on half of the bottom layer. Son3 does not eat nuts but my husband and I will still get the nutty deliciousness without hearing complaints from the peanut gallery. I put about 2/3 of the filling on the bottom layer then put the top cake layer on it. I thinned out the rest of the mocha with about a tablespoon of half and half and poured it like a thick glaze over the top. If I were serving it to anyone but my family, I would sprinkle candied pecans on the top and probably add a dollop of whipped cream . It is not unattractive, but a little plain looking.

I just tasted it and here is my official take on it. The mocha flavor is really good and the consistency is nice. There is no salt in the recipe, but if I made it again I would put a pinch of salt just to cut the sweetness a little. The toasted nuts add a lot to the flavor. All in all I doubt I will make this again. Though it is tasty it has no real wow factor to make it stand out over any other cake. I thought the cooking process was a little involved, but that also would be partly my fault for not knowing what a box of sugar is, so I had to do some trial and mostly error cooking.

Not sure what direction I will go in for the next recipe, but I know for sure I will pick my own!!!

Later taters!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

It begins at the beginning.

A young friend of mine had a wonderful idea for 2010. She decided to cook 100 untried recipes from her collection of Southern Living Cookbooks. I guess, like her we all have cookbooks hanging out, unused for the most part. Last year I went through a tremendous purging. Nothing like a complete kitchen remodel to get you into clutter rehab. I sent boxes and boxes to Goodwill ridding myself of anything that had not been used in at least a year. Along with the varied small appliances, old kitchen linens, assorted platters and odd pots and pans, I gave away approximately 50 cookbooks. When I decided to take on this challenge my first thought was "Shoot, I don't have many cookbooks left to even cook from". Then I actually counted what remained. I have over 50 books ranging from The Revised Rumford Complete Cookbook circa 1939 ( A very treasured volume which belonged to my late Grandmother and has her old handwritten recipes on every formerly blank space in the book. ) to The French Laundry Cookbook.

My mission, should I choose to accept it, is to cook 100 never tried by me recipes from my collection of books. I will post each recipe along with a brief description of anything I think you need to know about the prep. ( I will be brutally honest with what I think of prep time and the value of actually making the dish by the recipe vs. taking acceptable shortcuts.

I have been cooking since I was 2 (verified by home movies of me from 2 until I was old enough to balk at having Dad take anymore) As kids, my best friend and I would entertain ourselves in either her kitchen or mine. By the time we were about 10 we were making mock pink champagne and chocolate mousse. At 13 we were creating concoctions that we made for our families to sample as full meals. I guess I am returning to the 13 year old me, but I will not be making mock cocktails or chocolate mousse. My travelers in this adventure will be my husband and Son3, the only one still living at home. I am sure they will offer opinions about the food for me to share, but be warned...Son3 is disdainful of anything with mushrooms and onions so his opinions will contain a certain bias.

So I begin this blog and I am sharing a recipe I made last week when I decided to do this, but kept forgetting about the posting part until tonight. I would like to blame being exceedingly busy but I live in Alabama and we were just hit by a snow/ice storm and when it snows here everything comes to a screeching halt.
Well I have finally gotten my rear in gear so here it goes.

A Symphony of Chefs Vestavia Hills High School Band
This cookbook is the current fundraiser for the Vestavia Hills High School Band program. Instead of asking the parents for recipes, the cookbook committee sent emails all over the country, asking various restaurants and chefs for a recipe to include in the book. The result was a cookbook with a true smorgasbord of recipes.

Real Deal BBQ Drumsticks ...East Coast Grill and Raw Bar
Cambridge, Massachusetts

1/4 cup ground paprika
1/4 cup freshly cracked pepper
2 tablespoons brown sugar (packed)
2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons ground cumin
2 tablespoons dry mustard
1 tablespoon powdered ginger
14-16 medium chicken drumsticks
(or what I used) 5 chicken breast halves sliced in thick strips

Either build a charcoal fire and let it cool to a medium heat, or do like I did and turn on the gas grill to medium. Mix all the ingredients except for the chicken in a small mixing bowl. Make sure all of the ingredients are distributed evenly. Rub the chicken legs or strips thoroughly with the mix and set aside a few minutes before grilling. While they are resting get the sauce ready to cook

1 cup ketchup
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/3 cup molasses
10 dashes Worcestershire sauce

Put all of the ingredients in a small boiler and cook for about 10 minutes over a low heat stirring constantly.

Put the chicken on the grill and cover, but have the grill lid vented.
(On my grill it means putting an empty tuna can under one corner of the lid. You may own a much fancier grill and have built in vents to open. If so have them about 1/4 of the way opened)
These will cook slowly (about 30-40 minutes depending on the heat in your grill). After about 20 minutes of cooking mop some sauce on the chicken legs turn them and mop the other side. Repeat the process after 7-10 minutes . Check for doneness and enjoy.

I served the chicken with a tossed salad and rolls. We really did enjoy the flavor especially the rub. The sauce was a little too sweet and thick for us, but we tend to like a little more vinegar and less ketchup. The next time I make this I will use 3/4 cup vinegar and 3/4 cup ketchup. It will keep the liquid proportions the same but should cut down on the sweetness and thickness. The rub is outstanding. After eating the chicken I made 2 recipes of the rub just to have on hand for anything else we want to grill. I will probably add a little cayenne but will add it as I use it instead of altering the entire batch. This recipe got 3 repeat requests. When I make it next time I will double everything so we can have leftovers.

Later taters!